We have said, time and again, that your email list is your most valuable marketing asset. Those email addresses, as long as they have been collected via opt-in, are digital gold. But here’s a question for you:

How are you acquiring your subscribers?

I’m not talking about the traffic acquisition channels you see in Google Analytics (referral, direct, search), nor am I talking about getting addresses via a pop-up or a sign-up widget on your homepage or an opt-in box on a purchase page. I’m talking about something even more informative for you as you gather intelligence about your marketing efforts: How have people even found you in the first place?

Seven months ago, we implemented a progressive opt-in form for the WhatCounts Weekly newsletter. (Sign up today!)

We use a progressive opt-in form to ask subscribers questions.

The first few questions are pure demographic information: First and last name, industry, whether or not the subscriber is a current customer. We ask these questions to allow for more personalized and segmented messages – if we have news about a shift in the email marketing landscape that drastically affects travel and tourism marketers, then we have a segment of our list ready to go and we can communicate with them directly, as opposed to communicating to our entire list and making marketers in the sports marketing industry ask, “What the heck is in this for me?” But what I feel is the most important part of this form is the final question: “How did you hear about WhatCounts?”

Note that this question isn’t answered via a drop-down, or with pre-made radio buttons. Those can be useful for collapsing information into a few buckets, but it’s also artificially constraining, because the odds are that question can be answered in more ways than you can think of. That’s certainly been the case for us.

For example, one person signed up for the newsletter and said she did so because she used WhatCounts Publicaster Edition at her previous employer (which was great news for our sales team). Other people have said that they found us through industry partners we work with (which helps reinforce the mutual value of those partnerships). Some have found us through popular blog posts that have been re-published on other websites (which helps us refine and hone our content strategy). Some have been referred by friends, others have simply wanted to learn how to whitelist an email. The long and the short of it is that we would never have gotten that intelligence with a drop-down menu. As I have said time and again, we are not our audience … but our audience is our greatest source of intelligence and feedback regarding the health of our marketing efforts.

The most important takeaway from this, however, is that we never would have gotten this information, this intelligence, this feedback without, you guessed it, asking. But by asking, we get, on a daily basis, a better idea of how people are finding us on the Internet – and this is information that not only allows us to refine our processes, but also to proactively identify gaps in those processes before they become gaping chasms.

Just ask. The worst they can say is “no.”

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

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